Governance shows voters want honesty not gimmickry when it comes to turning
out to vote.
vote in local elections if they had more information about the candidate and
their views. This is three times as many as would be more likely to vote
using a mobile phone.
Dennis Reed of the Commission on Local Governance, which commissioned the
research, said: 'If there is one lesson we learn from Pop Idol it's that we
know what the contestants think, who they are and what they want. The more
we know about people the more we will be interested in them. We live in an
intimate world. You can't open a magazine without getting the inside leg
measurements and personal details of at least ten film stars. And yet
councillors are often reluctant to broadcast details about who they are and
why they take up the challenge of representing local people.
'Relighting the democracy fire will be about people and understanding the
difference they can make. We want to know what the people we vote for want,
why they do what they do and how they will help us. In particular, we need
to know why they would give up their time to do things for us for nothing.
We need to be able to look them in the eye and say we believe them.'
The survey also finds that two-thirds (66%) of would-be voters would be more
likely to vote if councils had more scope to decide what happens locally.
Mr Reed adds: 'If I'm going to hand control of my life over to someone I want
to know who they are and that they understand me.'
1. The survey was designed by the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU)
and fieldwork carried out by MORI Telephone Surveys. Interviews were
carried out between 15 and 17 February 2002. A quota sample representative
of the population aged 16 and over, of 911 interviews were carried out in
England and Wales.
2. The Commission on Local Governance is an independent body set up to
examine the opportunities in the local government White Paper to strengthen
local democracy. Administrated by the LGIU, the commission includes council
leaders from the three main political parties, and representatives from
business, academia, the voluntary sector, and public sector trade unions.
The report of its findings will be launched on 13 June.
The full report follows:
ATTITUDES TO LOCAL ELECTIONS
Research for the Commission on Local Governance
by MORI Telephone Surveys
This is a report on survey research carried out in February 2002 to provide information on factors influencing local election turnout. The survey looked at:
- Changes which might make people more likely to vote in local elections
- General attitudes to local elections
Further details on the method are given in a note at the end of the report.
Increasing local election turnout
Election turnout has been falling at all levels: local, parliamentary andEuropean elections. Past research (LGA, 1998) has focussed on options for making it easier to vote, such as changed voting methods or days of polling. There have also been surveys which looked specifically at the issue of directly elected mayors and asked people whether they would be more likely to vote in an election for such a role (Purdy and Birch, 2001, NLGN, 1999). This survey asked about a wider range of factors which might affect the individual's motivation to vote. This gives the opportunity to compare the importance of factors which address the practical ease of voting with other issues such as information about the election process or wider issues about the power or lack of it of councils.
Interviewees were asked about the following eleven factors, and for each one the interviewer asked whether it would make the interviewee more likely to vote, less likely to vote, or if it would make no difference.
The factors were:
- More information being provided about the candidates and their views
- Elections to include the direct election of a mayor to run the council (instead of a leader chosen by the councillors).
- Everyone to vote by post
- Being allowed to vote using the internet from home or work
- Being allowed to vote using a mobile phone
- Having more information from the council about the election and how to vote,
- A different voting system based on proportional representation
- Having more opportunity to participate in council decisions between local elections
- Councils to hold referendums about important local issues on the same day as local elections
- Councils having more scope to make decisions about what happens locally
- Councils having more scope to set taxes and charges locally and decide how the money is spent
The full results are shown in Table 1.
We can see that all the factors gained a positive score, in that for each factor, more people thought it would make them more likely to vote than less likely to vote. This is reflected in the 'net' score, the percentage saying 'more likely to vote' minus the percentage saying 'less likely to vote'. If we take this net score we can see the rating is in the order shown in Table 2.
TABLE 1. Factors which may affect turnout
More likely to vote Less likely to vote Would make no difference Don't knowNet More likely to vote
More information being
provided about the candidates and their views
Elections to include the direct election of a mayor to run the council
Everyone to vote by post45%14%39%1%31%
Being allowed to vote
using the internet from home or work
Being allowed to vote using a mobile phone
Having more information
from the council about the election and how to vote
A different voting system based on proportional representation
Having more opportunity to participate in council decisions between local elections
Councils to hold referendums about important local issues on the same day as local elections
Councils having more scope to make decisions about what happens locally
Councils having more scope to set taxes and charges locally and decide how the money is spent
Table 2: Factors most likely to improve turnout
likely to vote
59%More information being provided about the candidates and their views
58%Councils having more scope to make decisions about what happens locally
50%Having more information from the council about the election and how to vote,
48%Having more opportunity to participate in council decisions between local elections
48%Councils having more scope to set taxes and charges locally and decide how the money is spent
47%Councils to hold referendums about important local issues on the same day as local elections
38%Being allowed to vote using the internet from home or work
31%Everyone to vote by post
29%A different voting system based on proportional representation
20%Being allowed to vote using a mobile phone
18%Elections to include the direct election of a mayor to run the council (instead of a leader chosen by the councillors).
Factors affecting turnout
There is a clear pattern here, with issues to do with the provision of information and the scope of the council to make decisions which have a local impact, being given the highest rating as likely to increase turnout. This is followed in importance by other issues to do with involvement in local decision-making; holding local referenda and grater involvement in council decisions between elections.
Making voting easier in practical terms emerges as less important, but still has positive support. Having a directly elected mayor, which has been an important focus of government policy for local government, is shown as the least likely change to be effective in improving turnout.
We can also look at changes which some interviewees say would make them less likely to vote. As we have seen, none of the factors have a negative score overall. The change which has the highest 'less likely to vote' rating is being able to vote using a mobile phone, which 18% say would make them less likely to vote. The wording 'Being allowed to vote using a mobile phone' was intended to imply that this would be one voting option rather than the only way to vote, but this may notalways have been clear to interviewees. The two oldest age groups (55-64 and 65+), who are less likely to have such phones, have a negative score on this factor (both 5% net more likely).
Having a directly elected mayor has the joint second highest negative rating, as 14% say this would make them less likely to vote. Having local elections held entirely by post also has 14% saying this would make them less likely to vote.
Voters and non-voters
If more people are to be encouraged to take part in local elections, it is particularly important to identify changes which are supported by people who say they have not voted recently.
When asked about voting, 64% said they had voted in a local election in the last four years. We know this is above the usual turnout for local elections, although for voters in an area with two-tier local government or where the council elections were held by thirds, there would have been more than one opportunity to vote in a four year period.
In research for the Electoral Commission (Electoral Commission, 2001) immediately after the 2001 general election, 80% claimed to have voted, whereas we know the turnout was 59%. In a survey by IFF Research for the DETR (Purdy and Birch, 2001) 64.1% claimed to have voted in the last local election (the sample was from ten cities). So the tendency for more people to claim to have voted than is the case is well established in public opinion research. Nevertheless, this gives us an opportunity to compare the attitudes of those who have not voted with those who have or are more likely to have done so.
The next table, Table 3, gives the net 'more likely to vote' ratings of the eleven factors, in total, and showing separately those who said they had voted in a recent local election and those who had not.
Table 3: Views of voters and non-voters
Net more likely to vote: allNet more likely to vote: votersNet more likely to vote: non-voters
Information about candidates
Vote by post
Information about election
Participation between elections
Election with referendums
Council more scope to make decisions
Council more scope to set taxes/spending
We can see here that changes based on making voting easier (for voters with access to appropriate technology) such as voting using the internet or mobile phone, or by post, do have greater appeal to non-voters. The difference in attitudes between recent voters and non-voters are otherwise not great. Some factors, such as greater opportunity to participate between elections have slightly more appeal to people who have voted recently, rather than those who have not.
Demographic factors affecting turnout
When we examine who says they have or have not recently voted in local elections, age is the most significant factor. Of the youngest age group, 16-24, only 22% report having voted locally in the last four years; of course many of this age group would have been too young at the relevant election. But only 51% of the next age group, 25-34, say they have voted recently, compared with 84% of those age 65 plus.
Table 4: Age and voting in local elections
Did not vote
This is the most influential demographic factor affecting voting. Voting via the internet (75% more likely to vote) or by using a mobile phone (65% more likely to vote) has a stronger appeal to young adults. Having more information about the election and how to vote was particularly important to the youngest age group; 67% thought this would make them more likely to vote.
Attitudes to the local electoral process
The survey then asked a couple of questions on more general attitudes to local elections. Respondents were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the following attitude statements:
- The way people decide to vote in local elections is the main thing that decides how things are run in this area
- There is no point in voting in local elections because in the end it makes no difference who gets in
The extent to which respondents agreed or disagreed with these statements is shown in Table 5.
Table 5: Attitudes to local elections
The way people decide to vote in local elections is the main thing that decides how things are run in this area:
There is no point in voting in local elections because in the end it makes no difference who gets in:
Older people (65+) were much more likely to agree with the first of these statements (71% agreeing with the first), suggesting they have more commitment to the idea that voting in local elections has an important impact on the locality.
People who had not voted in a recent local election were much more likely to agree with the second statement that there was no point in voting in local elections because it made no difference who gets in. We find that 23% of voters agreed, but 73% disagreed. This compares with 46% of non-voters agreeing, but 47% disagreeing. (In these figures, agree strongly and agree, and disagree strongly and disagree, are aggregated.) So non-voters have a more negative view on whether voting makes any difference.
The survey was designed by LGIU staff and fieldwork carried out by MORI Telephone Surveys. Interviews were carried out between 15 and 17 February 2002. A quota sample representative of the population aged 16 and over, of 911 interviews were carried out in England and Wales.
Electoral Commission, Election 2001: The official results, London, Politicos Publishing,, 2001
Louise Horner and Roger Sykes, Encouraging people to vote: a MORI survey on people's attitudes to local elections, London, LGA, 1998
David Purdy and Demelza Birch, Survey of public attitudes to directly elected mayors, London, DTLR, 2001
MORI for New Local Government Network, cited in Karen Day, What a difference a mayor makes, London, NLGN, 1999